This eclectic neighborhood is rife with wine tasting rooms and a delicious variety of eateries and markets. From walk up ordering to five-star dining, try a few of these spots for lunch, wine tasting breaks or dinner.
Mony’s Mexican Food: This family-owned and operated favorite serves up some of the best Mexican food in town for lunch, a creative 8-salsa bar and arguably the best tacos. Join the mass of regular patrons pouring through the red door and choose between street-style tacos or homemade large plates like enchiladas smothered in mole sauce, then grab a seat at one of the sidewalk tables or chill on the sidewalk stoops with the masses.
The Lark and Lucky Penny: These neighboring restaurants are under the same ownership and the incredibly talented Executive Chef, Jason Paluska of The Lark, creates seasonal dinner menus worth a repeat visit. Check out the standard year-round menu at Lucky Penny for breakfast, lunch or dinner and grab a seat outdoors near the penny-covered building. Taste the chef’s spin on the quintessential breakfast burrito with an order of Milpas flatbread, a Mexican-style pizza covered in salsa verde, potatoes, chorizo and fried egg. For dinner, make reservations or join locals at the community table for a farm-to-table, family-style dinner at The Lark for the best of seasonal fare from local farms and fields.
Metropulos: Soups, sandwiches and gyros—oh my! This quaint Greek deli that sits on the outskirts of the neighborhood is brimming with a local lunch crowd and offers incredible salads, sandwiches piled high and tasty seasonal soups made daily. Grab a seat inside and get a look at the market items on display in the nooks of the store or enjoy outdoor seating in Santa Barbara’s nearly year-round sunshine.
Visit the oldest neighborhood in Santa Barbara for a look at the original Presidio buildings and a piece of the city’s Spanish roots. While you wander, be sure to stop in for a bite or two at some of the best-kept secrets in town.
Three Pickles and The Pickle Room: Three Pickles is a big-city deli serving up tasty cold cuts during the day while Lovejoy’s Pickle Room next door offers well-crafted cocktails at night. Both are situated in the last remaining original Chinatown building across the street from the Presidio chapel and are rife with history told on the plaque near the front door. Stop by Three Pickles at lunchtime for a taste of fresh traditional style deli cuts, sandwiches and Italian hot dishes like meatballs and hot pastrami. At night, go next door for hearty old-fashioned cocktails made by the well-established bartenders.
La Paloma Café: Step back in time and visit the modernized La Paloma Café, a restaurant concept that made a comeback to the Presidio neighborhood after 37 years. If you’re craving old California cuisine influenced by Spanish, Mexican and Indigenous fares, this is your spot. Start with the Esquite Style Shishito Peppers and a specialty house cocktail (preferably with mezcal), then dig into the Santa Maria Style Snake River Farm Wagyu Tri-Tip and, if you have a sweet tooth, finish off the evening with a Mexican Salted Chocolate Tart. If you’re more of a brunch fan, La Paloma serves up an incredible brunch menu complete with classics like chilaquiles and huevos rancheros.
Intermezzo Bar + Café: As the sister restaurant to the popular Wine Cask restaurant (which is temporarily closed), Intermezzo offers a little bit of everything when it comes to elevated American cuisine. From flatbreads to farm-to-table salads, this is the ultimate local’s hangout.
Eat like a local, with the locals. You won’t find many out-of-towners in this neck of the woods, but you’re sure to find family-owned and operated, long-standing restaurants full of history and quality dishes.
Via Maestra 42: If you’re looking for real, authentic Italian food for breakfast, lunch or dinner, look no further. Taste homemade pastas like gnocchi, ravioli and risotto that will melt in your mouth and leave your belly satisfied.
Harry’s Plaza Cafe: Cocktails and hearty plates of comfort food are the order of the day in this Mad Men-esque, family-friendly joint. Soak up the rich history in photos that cover the walls while you sink into a plush high-back booth and enjoy an American-style lunch or dinner accompanied by some of the stiffest drinks in town.
Los Agaves: It’s always worth the inevitable wait at this family-owned Mexican restaurant. Choose from the daily specials that may include the catch of the day or the standard menu of enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, tacos and molcajetes, then let yourself slip into a Mexi-coma that is sure to hit the spot.
While there’s no shortage of places to choose from for lunch or dinner along State Street, there are a few that will have you coming back again and again:
opal restaurant & bar: Incredible service, a wine list comparable to a novel and a mix of American and Italian fare await you at this locals-only restaurant. Dress up or keep it casual for lunch or dinner before heading next door for a movie or live performance at Arlington Theater. But first, enjoy dishes that locals flock to, like herb-grilled filet mignon or lemongrass-crusted salmon with a Thai curry sauce. Don’t believe us? Just check the menu that highlights which dishes have been dubbed a “local’s favorite!”
Sama Sama Kitchen: Do cocktails or full dinner at this Indonesian-inspired restaurant. Choose from seasonal spicy small plates or family-style large plates or rice and noodle dishes. Can’t get a seat in this happening hipster joint? Head next door to The Good Lion for craft cocktails and a short menu of Sama Sama’s small plates.
Jane Restaurant: Find American fine dining with a European twist and a fantastic view to boot at Jane Restaurant. Soak in the liveliness of downtown Santa Barbara while enjoying a mouthwatering Grilled Salmon or Chicken Piccata main course at this beloved Santa Barbara classic.
Find out the catch of the day, from fish to shellfish to sea bass, tuna, snapper, diver scallops, spiny lobster, sea urchin and stone crab, at the markets or cafes in the harbor or on the menu boards of the restaurants on Stearns Wharf. Grab a quick bite, enjoy five-star dining with an ocean view or wine-taste on the ocean at some of these seafaring gems.
Brophy Bros.: Do lunch or dinner at this iconic waterfront restaurant, where you’ll get a taste of the daily catch and American fare. If you’re looking to keep it even more casual, join the crowd downstairs at its sister restaurant, On The Alley, for a similar seafood-inspired menu and relaxed, casual atmosphere.
Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room: Get a kick out of wine tasting over the open waters of the Pacific in Santa Barbara’s only wine tasting room that sits on the ocean. Savor locally grown and harvested varietals the county is known for, like pinot noir and chardonnay, while taking in the breathtaking views from the outdoor deck.
Toma Restaurant & Bar: Relax seaside with an Italian-inspired, five-star dinner in an old-world, historic building quietly nestled between oceanfront hotels along East Cabrillo Boulevard. Let the impeccable staff treat you like royalty, whether it’s a romantic night on the town or a quality dinner with the family while you dine on hearty pasta dishes of ravioli, lasagna and gnocchi. Or savor the catch of the day with a bowl of cioppino, or a plate of grilled scallops with green onion remoulade, lobster, bacon, asparagus and whipped potato.
While a little off-the-beaten-path for the average traveler to Santa Barbara, Milpas St. is sprinkled with quite a few restaurants that make it worth the trek. From hole-in-the-wall joints to revived trendy eateries, the Milpas neighborhood won’t disappoint.
La Super-Rica Taqueria: Widely known as Julia Child’s favorite Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara, this isn’t your average taqueria. The tortillas are made fresh by the minute, the grill is always sizzling and the flavorful sauces are plentiful. Patrons of La Super-Rica often find themselves lining up in front of the iconic bright turquoise building before it officially opens at 11 a.m. Be sure to have cash handy, as this local favorite is cash-only.
Cesar’s Place: This hole-in-the-wall haven for Mexican food is one to put on your roundup of places to eat during your visit to Santa Barbara. From fresh ceviche to carne asada, the extensive menu is sure to satisfy anyone’s hankering for authentic Mexican cuisine.
Bossie’s Kitchen: Old Bossie reigned queen of the corner of Milpas and Canon Perdido St. since the ‘60s, but it wasn’t until 2019 that chefs Lauren Herman and Christina Olufson purchased the iconic 83-year-old building—formerly Live Oak Dairy—and transformed it into the modern joint to feast on elevated American food it is today. Stop in for lunch or dinner and indulge in some Bossie’s Kitchen’s farm-fresh salads or grilled salmon dishes. While Old Bossie is no longer perched atop this historic building, Bossie’s Kitchen still continues to honor her legacy.